Writing British English

Subject: Writing British English
From: Alisa Dean <Alisa -dot- Dean -at- MCI -dot- COM>
Date: Fri, 8 Nov 1996 17:01:00 -0700

Wow. My first time here and see how many times I have an opinion....

I worked at Quark, Inc., where we had several British employees. There
are some differences about American vs. British writing that I found,
such as the following.

o Many words have a different meaning in England. For example, "fag"
means cigarette, "redundant" means obsolute (different from duplicate,
as in America), and so on. As a pan-continental writer, you must be
aware of the local meanings of any terms used.

o Yes, the spelling is different: "Colour" vs "color," "theatre" vs.
"theater." The problem is if the local audience sees these as errors
instead of cultural differences.

o Punctuation may also differ. For example, most Europeans that I
have met find the comma before the "and" in a list as unnecessary.
They transpose the usage of commas and periods as separators in
large numbers. Their dates put the day first, as in DD/MM/YY.
If they see our notation of 10/11/96, they will see it as
November 10, instead of the intended October 11.

o Of course, colloquialisms may not translate well across cultures.

One advantage is that the British are used to feeling superior about
our slapdash, informal American english, so they will probably expect
some differences. (I'm not saying this because I'm lingually bigoted
- I've been told this by just about every English citizen I've met.)

I would recommend just having a British person proofread what you've
written to make sure that there is not room for misunderstanding.
I personally would not feel it necessary to have the manuals be developed
in duplicate across the ocean.

Alisa Dean
Sr. Technical Writer

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